REGION — Five Marines with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing have been confirmed dead following a CH-53E helicopter crash on Tuesday, the U.S. Marine Corps said today.
Maj. Gen. Michael J. Borgschulte, commanding general of 3rd MAW issued the following statement:
“It is with a heavy heart and profound sadness that I share the loss of five outstanding Marines from 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing and the Flying Tigers while conducting a training flight last night. These pilots and crewmembers were serving a calling greater than self and were proud to do so. We will forever be grateful for their call to duty and selfless service. To the families of our fallen Marines, we send our deepest condolences and commit to ensuring your support and care during this incredibly difficult time.”
As a matter of policy, identities of deceased service members are not released until 24 hours after all next-of-kin notifications have been completed.
President Joe Biden said he was grateful to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and offered condolences to the families of the Marines who died.
“Jill and I are heartbroken at the loss of five U.S. Marines, whose aircraft crashed while flying from Nevada to California during a routine training mission,” Biden said in a statement. “As the Department of Defense continues to assess what occurred, we extend our deepest condolences to their families, their squadron, and the U.S. Marine Corps as we grieve the loss of five of our nation’s finest warriors. I am deeply grateful to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary-Civil Air Patrol and other federal, state and local agencies for their professionalism and dedication in supporting search and recovery efforts.
“Our service members represent the very best of our nation – and these five Marines were no exception. Today, as we mourn this profound loss, we honor their selfless service and ultimate sacrifice – and reaffirm the sacred obligation we bear to all those who wear the uniform and their families.”
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III also commented on the helicopter crash.
“We mourn the tragic loss of five U.S. Marines earlier this week during a training flight en route from Nevada to California,” Austin said. “My prayers are with these brave Marines and their families, loved ones and teammates.
“As the Marine Corps investigates this deadly crash, it is yet another reminder that across our nation and the world, our selfless service members put their lives on the line every day to keep our country safe,” Austin said. “The entire Department of Defense honors these brave Marines’ service and grieves their passing.”
Efforts to recover the remains of the Marines and equipment have begun and an investigation is underway, said 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing Capt. Stephanie Leguizamon.
“Though we understand the inherent risks of military service, any loss of life is always difficult,” the captain said. “The 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing stands unwavering in its commitment to supporting the families, friends, and fellow service members of the fallen Marines.”
The CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter departed from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada on Tuesday and was last heard from around 11:30 p.m.
The aircraft was located by civil authorities in Pine Valley at 9:08 a.m., military officials reported Wednesday. The 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing was managing search and rescue efforts through the Wing Operations Command Center and using ground and aviation assets to locate the aircrew in coordination with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and multiple federal, state and local agencies.
Cal Fire San Diego crews on three fire engines and an ambulance launched a search north of Interstate 8 and east of Kitchen Creek Road near Fred Canyon in the early morning hours Wednesday based on the helicopter’s last known location, Cal Fire spokesman Mike Cornette told the San Diego Union- Tribune.
“We made access to the coordinates, but it was snowing outside and difficult to access,” Cornette said. “We searched around different locations there and went as far as we could on different roads, but it was really snowy and wet and muddy.”
Creech Air Force Base is about 400 miles away from San Diego.
A sheriff’s helicopter was sent to the area in the Cleveland National Forest early Wednesday but couldn’t reach it because of stormy weather. The department sent off-road vehicles to the area where the helicopter was last reported.
The CH-53E is a heavy-lift helicopter often used for transporting troops and equipment from shore to shore.